Five-and-a-half years have passed since an earthen dam holding toxic coal ash from a coal plant failed in Harriman, Tenn., spilling more than a billion gallons of the ash into rivers and forests, and destroying several homes. The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant disaster was widely considered one of the worst in U.S. history, or at least one of the biggest by volume. And it’s still causing headaches, hundreds of miles away.
Last week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators traveled to Uniontown, Ala., to interview residents and activists who say a local landfill that accepted much of the Tennessee coal ash is polluting air and water sources nearby, causing people who live in the area to become sick. The residents of the poor, predominantly black area say they are being unfairly burdened with the literal remnants of a disaster they had nothing to do with.
"The landfill is a hill, a mountain, and it’s scary," said Esther Calhoun, a 51-year-old resident that has lived in Uniontown for most of her life. "Who wants to live in a place that might be bad for your health? But most of us are on a fixed income. We’re stuck here."
The Arrowhead Landfill has been controversial from the start, even before the coal ash from Tennessee began arriving by the trainload in 2009. But after the facility expanded in 2012, community activism heated up, and residents asked the EPA to intervene. They charged that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits agencies that receive federal funding from discrimination.